DALLAS — As well as Dirk Nowitzki played in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and he was absolutely brilliant, he might not have been the most efficient Mavericks player on the floor.
That honor goes to HT fave and Puerto Rico’s favorite NBA son, J.J. Barea, who showed that his work against the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals was no fluke.
Barea came off the bench to score 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including making two of his shots from beyond the 3-point line. He did all that in just 16 minutes and 11 seconds of work, combining with veteran sixth man Jason Terry (24 points) to give the Mavericks’ bench that punch they are used to in this postseason. They averaged 49.5 in that sweep of the Lakers and dropped 53 on the Thunder in Game 1.
Color Thunder coach Scott Brooks impressed, particularly with Barea.
“He’s very good,” Brooks said. “He’s a talented young player that has improved every year he’s been in the league. He gets in there because he has a great handle, he has great quickness and he’s crafty, and they set great screens for him. He was able to collapse the defense and he made the [3-pointers]. He’s good. I read the paper yesterday where Jason Kidd compared him to me, but that’s way off. I [was] nowhere near as good as that kid.”
Terry is expected to perform the way he did every night, but it’s Barea that continues to dazzle. He’s doing his work off the dribble against and from distance against the Thunder, who tried to insert their own pint-sized energy booster, Nate Robinson, into the lineup to match up with Barea and provide a similar spark.
It was no contest. Robinson went scoreless in his five minutes and 41 seconds of action and was victimized in a couple of Barea’s highlights.
“What he did not only in the second half but in the fourth quarter,” Terry said, “he kind of took control of the game and getting a basket, assisting on a basket or playing pick and roll basketball, which we like. And he kept the momentum going.”
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle praised both of his bench boosters for their work in Game 1 and warned that they have to continue to do so for the Mavericks to be successful.
“They both played well and they were both aggressive,” Carlisle said. “As the series goes on, we’ll be seeing different coverages and different matchups, and those guys have to be ready for anything. We rely on our bench a lot, we bring a lot of our better players off the bench, and we need those guys to play well because we count on them.”
Barea is counting on it.
“All I can do is stay aggressive and play my game,” he said. “There is no secret to what we’re doing.”